Mudbound–Mired in the Mississippi Delta

 

Mudbound the movie

Set in the Deep South in1939 and then fast-forwarding to World War II, Mudbound is an epic of two families–one white (McAllan) and one black (Jackson)–who are severely constrained by the Jim Crow laws and customs in Alabama. The two McAllan brothers, Henry and Jamie, epitomize Cain and Abel. The Jacksons are sharecroppers bravely facing the disconnect between their dreams and the dangerous obstacles set before them.

Mudbounds main plot focuses on Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedland) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), decorated war heroes who, upon returning, are misfits in their hometown. As their friendship grows tighter, so do the menacing threats surrounding them. One subplot moves into sibling rivalry between Jamie and his brother; another into Henry’s brutal and defeated temperament, which affects his marriage to Laura (Carrie Mulligan).

Mudbound challenges our concepts of friendship, family, and marriage. Sometimes the story is predictable, even clichéd. There are also difficult scenes to watch. Yet, the retelling of this story is crucial, lest we forget. The military, out of necessity, gave responsibility to both black and white soldiers, albeit in segregated troops. It is the “welcome home” racism that is portrayed in all its hypocrisy and disrespect for heroes of color. ln addition, the French and Belgian openness in attitude and behavior towards black soldiers are in stark contrast to what Ronsel Jackson has to face in Alabama.

A history to remember, Mudbound showcases superb acting from an ensemble cast of up-and-coming actors who engage us enough that we can overlook a script that should have been better. In an unexpected scene-stealing performance, Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop and soul, is virtually unrecognizable, as Florence Jackson. She gives as much soul to her subtle, heart-wrenching performance as the best, more experienced actresses.   A Netflix Original, this new addition to the genre focused on racial inequality deserves to be watched by all interested in history and family saga.

Goodbye Christopher Robin – The Story Behind Winnie the Pooh

Guest Blogger, Mary Marcus, is a movie lover and enthusiastic reviewer.

Repressed feelings and isolation are channeled through writing what would be a children’s classic about a young boy and his animal friends in this historical drama, Goodbye Christopher Robin.

England after the First World War had rigid social rules and manners for the upper class, in an affectless culture. A.A. Milne came back from the war broken but unable to talk about the trauma he experienced.

A writer (of the beloved Winnie the Pooh series) and playwright, Milne (played by Domhnall Gleeson of Revenant), experiencing PTSD, moves to the country with his family. Caring for his son on his own, he and his son relate through a fantasy world of oddly named and imaginary animals. It is then that Winnie the Pooh and his magical world are discovered.

Post-WW I is a world of longing, deep emotion, unexpressed love, fear and anxiety, social problems, public school bullying, economic issues, and anti-war sentiment. It is this atmosphere that gives birth to an escape in the form of books about charming animals and a child, Christopher Robin.

A secondary theme is connection. The author’s son Christopher watches his emotionally distant father’s violent and traumatic reaction to noise. The boy wants to connect with his father but is fearful of him. Feeling abandoned he pushes his father to play with him in the woods. They build structures together for imaginary animals and through their creations, share a common reality and friendship.

The connection as well as disconnection alternate between Milne and his son. The private son-father moments become public with the publication of Winnie the Pooh. Christopher feels exploited that his name is used and that his favorite bear becomes Winnie the Pooh. The relationship starts to deteriorate when Christopher sees that the attention he receives from his father is tied to the book and its sales.

Winnie the Pooh
THE NEW ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH

At the end of the Second World War father and son are reunited and the viewer sees what happens to the adult Christopher and how he related to his legacy.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a gentle, beautiful, anti-war film and a narrative of a father-son bonding in difficult times.

NOTE: “The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 41 million: there were over 18 million deaths and 23 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes from 9 to 11 million military personnel and about 5 to 6 million civilians…” Wikipedia

“What If”–She Doesn”t Understand?

What If the movie

What If  is a charming romantic comedy perfect for the holidays. Starring Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”) as Wallace and Zoe Kazan (“The Big Sick”) as Chantry, What If is a well-written story about two millennials who meet at a party and unexpectedly decide to start a friendship. Wallace is emotionally damaged from a failed romance with a doctor while both were in med school. He dropped out, and now is languishing in an unsatisfying and boring job, still moping over a year later. Chantry, a quirky intellectual artist who works for an animation studio, lives with her longtime boyfriend who is a high-power international negotiator.

Both Chantry and Wallace are somewhat awkward socially and emotionally wobbly, but blossom in each other’s company, discussing arcane topics that no one else seems interested in.

Canadian screenwriter and novelist Elan Mastai has written a sharp and clever comedy, balancing laughs with heart. Suggesting the tentative sweetness of changing the territory of the “friendzone” and the “love triangle”, What If asks the question: What does it mean to fall in love with your best friend?

The romantic comedy genre seems to be criticized a lot. There are plenty of cheesy films but What If is a gem. It’s well-written and a romantic comedy done right. Like most movies of this genre, you know how this movie progresses. However, What If still has some fresh moments, including the near universal (?) awkwardness for the woman (and maybe the man) in using the bathroom in the friend’s apartment. The scene is hilarious and endearing at the same time.

The dialogue stands out, alive with surprising turns and turbo-charged zingers as honest conversations poured out stemming from love, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings.

There is an undeniable charm in the ensemble cast’s performances (including Adam Driver). Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan bring soul and chemistry to the human connection they both are afraid of but want so desperately. My only negative comments are that neither the subplot with Chantry’s mother doesn’t contribute to the story’s momentum nor does the intrusive clips of animation. The overall structure of the story, however, with a nice “bookending” of first and last scenes is outstanding.

What If is worth watching as delightful, feel-good entertainment. If you’re looking for an intelligent–not cheesy– comedy to watch during the holidays (don’t wait until Valentine’s Day), rent What If.

Note: Available on Netflix

 

The Florida Project: Finding the Magic Kingdom

 

The Florida Project

[Another great review by guest blogger:  Bill Clark,  award-winning photographer, printmaker, writer, political activist and proud grandfather of four wonderful grandchildren. See his first review: “Faces Places–A Journey of the Heart”, October 23, 2017]

My six-year-old granddaughter’s first e-mail complained that her older brother was telling everyone her “sekrids.” I wondered what kind of secrets a loved, well-cared for and healthy child could have. After viewing The Florida Project I now know secrets a child may have who lives in poverty near Orlando, Florida and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The Florida Project is sad, funny, happy, heart-breaking and most of all, unforgettable.

Director Sean Baker deftly reveals the hidden world of six-year-old Moonee, the only child of her free-spirited single mom, Halley.   They live in an extended-stay motel, the Magic Castle Inn, targeting low-income families.

Moonee (brilliantly played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) leads her pals Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valerie Cotto) through a series of adventures over the course of a summer – no summer camps for them. For example, they manage to cage money in front of a soft-serve ice cream joint so the three can share one ice cream cone. They thread their way through the garish souvenir stores that line strip malls along Seven Dwarfs Way until Moonee brings them to a pasture where cattle are grazing. “See! I brought you on a safari.”

Moonee takes her friend to a gigantic fallen cypress. Straddling the huge limbs, Moonee tells her friend a secret. “This is my favorite tree because it’s tipped over but keeps on growing.” This may be Moonee’s life.

Episodic without a traditional narrative arc, The Florida Project tracks the children from scene to scene demonstrating their resilience, independence, boredom and, occasionally, petty crimes. Moonee’s mother, Halley (a breakout performance by Bria Vinaite), loves Moonee, but unable to hold a job or manage her anger, Halley ultimately fails her young daughter.

Veteran actor Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, manager of the motel, who does his best to protect Moonee, and all the other impoverished residents. More the kindly innkeeper than harsh rule enforcer, Bobby desires to make the residents’ lives better, or at least bearable, as they live in abject poverty.

A beautiful ending sums up The Florida Project–an ending I won’t disclose.